WWF's ReSource: Plastic platform is helping companies implement ways to reduce the most plastic, measure the impact — and hold them all to account in the process. WWF’s Erin Simon told us more.
Plastic waste is plaguing us. We know our use of this delightfully cheap and versatile material needs to change, but changing effectively can be hard — and, though many companies have committed to reduce plastic waste through multiple initiatives that have sprung up to help companies approach plastic differently, gaps and silos remain.
A new resource that gives us hope is ReSource:Plastic, led by WWF — which is deploying its team of plastic experts to help companies identify the interventions that can reduce the most plastic, implement them and measure the impact, while collaborating with other companies — and holding them all to account in the process.
ReSource’s principal members are CPG companies — including The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks and Tetra Pak — who, along with partners Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Ocean Conservancy, are aiming to prevent 100 million metric tons of plastic waste in the coming years. One of the unique aspects of ReSource is that it will track the collective progress made by its members; participating companies might even be able to challenge each other — there’s nothing like a little competition towards a shared cause.
We caught up with Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability R&D at WWF, to find out more about this new activation hub and how it can help illuminate the road forward.
ReSource: Plastic offers companies the ability to engage with different stakeholders. Who are some of the different stakeholders that need to be involved for companies to reach their goals, and how is the initiative using collaboration to drive change?
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Erin Simon: As we all likely know, ocean plastic pollution can’t be solved with a single solution. Instead we need to fix a complex, global and broken plastic materials system by turning off the faucet of plastic waste leaking into our oceans and other ecosystems. We started ReSource: Plastic because we recognize the role of business as a critical stakeholder to accelerating the systems change we need, in addition to public policy, cities and people (consumers).
Currently, stakeholders throughout the plastic materials system are largely operating in silos. This is part of the reason why we’re seeing waste flood our oceans at a rate that research says is approximately one dump truck per minute.
To illustrate this: Companies can make something 100 percent recyclable — but if a consumer chucks it in the trash, or the recycling is contaminated, or access to recycling facilities doesn’t exist locally — that item is going into a landfill, or ending up in nature. That’s why if companies really want to increase plastic recycling, they have to go beyond their own products — and that’s where things start getting really complicated.
That’s why ReSource is built for our Members to work beyond their supply chains, so we can solve for the pain points across the system — like, work with other companies to bring new ideas and proven solutions to scale; with other key NGO and on-the-ground partners to ensure environmental and social integrity of solutions; or with cities and civil society to ensure successful on-the-ground implementation.
What are some of the biggest points of uncertainty companies face when it comes to improving their own plastic waste footprint?
ES: The only way companies will truly effect change would be to take on some ambitious strategies that may disrupt their day-to-day and status quo. It’s a daunting task, but it can (and must) be done. Despite the figurative mountain to climb, we find that where companies lack confidence is understanding even where and how to begin being part of this systems change.
Where do we begin? What actions do we need to take — and how do we know they’re working? Questions like these are the perceived barriers to entry that can really hold up progress. This sense of apprehension and uncertainty are why companies aren’t able to take the big steps we need in order to mitigate their plastic waste footprint. This is why WWF understands the value of providing companies with the clarity they need to overcome them.
Our 2019 report, No Plastic in Nature: A Practical Guide for Business Engagement, outlines four proven strategies that nearly any company can deploy when approaching this issue. Then, through ReSource, we go on to help companies solve for the what, how and why by identifying what specific actions they should be taking, and how they’re working once in-progress.
Can you give us an example of how the tools guide companies towards their commitment?
ES: The ReSource Footprint Tracker will be the centerpiece of the activation hub. It will be the tool to tell companies where to start, identify intervention points for action, and how to optimize these actions in order to meet their commitment objectives. Because all companies will be using the tracker, it will also allow us to see the aggregate progress being made toward our goal of preventing 10M metric tons of plastic waste.
Currently in-development by WWF’s research & development team, the footprint tracker is being piloted by our Principal Members, so it’s tried and tested by the time ReSource begins Member recruitment in January 2020.
Because we’re still piloting the methodology, we don’t yet have baseline results; but the goal will be to paint a picture of a company’s plastic material footprint, and more importantly, looking at the fate of the plastic companies are putting into the system — what are they making, where it goes, how much of it is recycled or composted, how much of the material is likely ending up outside of the waste management system, and so forth. From there, we can design the right interventions to break down those barriers to collection.
What if companies find they are not making progress? What incentives do they have to keep reporting — and working?
ES: WWF sees the success of companies and meeting their goals an essential part of the broader No Plastic in Nature strategy — our global, multi-faceted campaign to end plastic pollution. For ReSource, member companies must track their progress per the footprint tracker, and then publicly report out on an annual basis accordingly.
This reporting element isn’t just to hold companies accountable to their commitments, though. The possibility of companies missing the mark on goals is, in a way, embedded within the design of our program. We effectively see ReSource as one big feedback loop — if companies are showing they can’t make progress on a certain activity, we’ll need to recalibrate so that they can shift their focus to actions that may bring better results. The unique value proposition of ReSource is the rigor that [holds] companies to the very high standards for commitment and self-improvement.
If all the companies participating in the initiative meet their targets, how much plastic waste will be reduced?
ES: Our initial target is to prevent a minimum of 10 million metric tons of plastic waste pollution per year through 2030. Knowing it will take some time to ramp up, our initial goal is to address about 5 million metric tons of plastic by the end of 2022. Ideally, with new members and increasing activities, we hope to grow that impact annually. Cumulatively by 2030, we envision addressing a minimum of 50 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic through the program.
However, we’re aspiring to much more. We think the collaborative element of ReSource that forces our Members to go beyond their operations — information sharing, co-investing, cross-sectoral engagement — has incredible potential to catalyze breakthroughs and bring game-changing solutions to scale.